Red Cross Instructor Destined to Save a Life
Written by Ray Steen, Staff Writer,

April 17, 2002 — Once or twice a year, Bill Witt, an engineer at Lucent Technologies, teaches an American Red Cross first aid and CPR course that includes how to use an automated external defibrillator (AED) — an electronic device used to restore a heart's normal rhythm in the event of sudden cardiac arrest. Bill is also on the Lucent Indian Hill Medical Emergency Response Team (MERT) and teaches team members how to use AEDs. But on January 11, 2001, Witt's skills would be put to the test following an unusual chain of events at the airport.

Following an all-day meeting in Chicago, Witt and a couple of his colleagues decided to put themselves on standby for an earlier flight out of Chicago. When the earlier flight arrived, the airline began reading off the names of standby passengers to board the flight, when the computer system crashed.

Without computer access, the airline did not have access to the standby names and had to work out the issue on a first-come, first-serve basis. After boarding some standby passengers, they announced there was no more room, leaving Witt and his colleague Craig Schilder out of luck and waiting for their originally booked flight.

William Witt, 43, is a volunteer Red Cross instructor and teaches CPR and first aid to co-workers at Lucent Technologies.

Two hours later Witt and Schilder boarded their flight out of Chicago, thinking their troubles were behind them. But just before they took off, a flight attendant rushed past them to the cockpit. Seconds later the captain's voice rang over the speakers asking for medical help immediately.

Witt jumped up from his seat to find a man eight rows back showing signs of a heart attack. With the help of some flight attendants, Witt lifted the man onto the floor in case CPR was required.

The flight crew retrieved the AED from the wall and handed it to Witt.

An AED is a device that analyzes the heart's rhythm and, if necessary, tells the user to deliver a shock, using pads with electrodes, to a victim of sudden cardiac arrest

 "Everything I taught just clicked in and I went through it just like I had learned it," Witt recalled. "It's really a heck of a device. It has an exact picture of where to apply the pads and it prompts you through the process the whole time. Almost anybody can use it as long as they can follow directions."

Witt grabbed the pads, applied them to the victim's chest, followed the instructions from the AED, and administered the shock. It worked. Witt could detect a very weak heartbeat as the man began to breathe a little on his own. Witt quickly climbed over the seats, and positioned the victim's head to open his breathing passage, and continued to monitor the victim's vital signs until medical personnel arrived.

"Hang in there buddy! Stay with me!" Witt shouted as everyone on the plane stared in silence.

Ten minutes later, the paramedics arrived and escorted the victim, who was now breathing on his own, off the plane.

The man received care at a nearby hospital and five days later underwent surgery to implant a defibrillator used for sudden cardiac arrest (SCA) survivors. The victim doesn't remember much about the incident, but gratefully met up with Witt and the flight crew to show his appreciation.

 "It was nice closure. We know this person lived and was now doing well," Witt said.

Witt's friend and colleague Schilder later said that all of the problems with the earlier flight were a miracle — that Witt was meant to be on that flight so he could help save a life.

Ironically, the survivor is a firefighter/EMT who, although has followed the progress of AEDs for the past three to four years, has never been a proponent of making AEDs accessible to the public. He is now part of the statistics that validate the need for early defibrillation by first responders and the treatment of SCAs.

For his life-saving heroics, Bill Witt will be awarded the American Red Cross Certificate of Merit. This is the highest award given by the American Red Cross to an individual or team who saves or sustains a life by using skills and knowledge learned in a Red Cross Health and Safety Services course. The certificate bears the signatures of the President to the United States, who is the honorary chairman of the Red Cross, and David McLaughlin, Chairman of the Red Cross.

For more information on AEDs and AED training, contact your local Red Cross.

© 2002 The American National Red Cross. All Rights Reserved.